Self-absorbed again, although I like this one. “The splendour and the lose grew all the same.” This distance between lack of wellness on one hand, and fame on the other—one grows, the “splendour,” while at the same time, the “lose”, the alcohol, illness, shame, insecurity, also grow, so the distance between good and bad in the person stretch him toward opposite poles. The personal hell of not being whole, well, or fulfilled. The answer: “Sire, damp me down.” More comfortable as a loser, at least at this moment. Robert Lowell had just called him the greatest American poet, his fame was spreading overseas. The whole first collection of The Dream Songs hadn’t been put together yet (the first 77), but they were coming out all over in various literary journals and getting a lot of attention. But B. was still Henry deep down.
There is something here about ambition, lying, falsity. Freddie Prinze was a TV star from the 70s who ended his own life while his popularity on TV was at its peak. Obviously depression was a problem, and there were marital issues, and some genuine irregular behavior. I remember this incident, and a report I read about the suicide note he left, where he told everyone that he simply felt like a failure. His fame was false and he couldn’t stand the pressure of it. I remember Suzanne Somers, another TV star from the same time, saying that she felt so bad, because if he had just hung on for awhile, he would have grown into his fame and found out that he could handle it. It wouldn’t have stretched him so far.
The anxiety attendant to fame has never been a personal issue I’ve had to deal with. Not very likely I ever will, either. But it’s an interesting phenomenon that B. is touching on here. The image of something (not you) gets put out there, and the pressure to now become that thing that you’ve created, or more likely has been created for you, apparently gets pretty weird. Leonard Nimoy died today, a much more stable, grounded and centered personality than Freddie Prinze or John Berryman ever were, and he had to deal with it as well. His first autobiography was titled, I Am not Spock. He came to terms with it, though, and his second was titled I Am Spock. Inhabiting one’s fame and inhabiting one’s on-screen character are a bit different, but they’re both about the pressure of image. That’s what lying does as well: You put forth a face that is not yours. Some people are better at fame than others, and some, so I’ve heard, are lost behind it. The poet couldn’t become lost, because I don’t see how you can fake literature. You can fake verse and fiction, but I like to think there are too many sensitive and sophisticated readers ready to call you to task if you pose as an artist and are faking it. Eventually, you will fold. I don’t think B. faked it—he’s the real deal. I lost a bit of patience with what he did give, the shame, self-pity, anxiety, etc. But, it’s much, much better than a phony pose, so okay. I’m on board still. The poems veer away from this tack tomorrow anyway.
And by the way, if I ever become a household name myself, I’ll have more to say on the matter…